Hope for a Difficult Christmas Season

This is from Dayspring by Rachel Wojo.

Hope for a Difficult
Christmas Season

by Rachel Wojo

Christmas carols fill the air; smiles and laughter are everywhere. A stroll through town reveals glistening windows boasting of tasty holiday treats and shiny red ribbon. Twinkling lights dance in unexpected places and bounce off sparkling trees.  Whether you appreciate lots of gold and glitter or simple candles, the blessing of our Lord’s birth is celebrated with expression!

While Christmas is full of joy and celebration, the world is not exempt from sorrow during this season. For many of us, our hurting hearts experience intensified ache as memories flood our minds. Perhaps the memory is of a loved one now in heaven. Maybe the memory haunts as part of a painful past; something we wish could be changed or undone. Pain not only exists from the past, but in the daily present. Discouragement doesn’t stop lurking. Disease doesn’t stop waging its war. Death doesn’t pause for a few days.

When Jesus was born, His parents didn’t plan a gender reveal party. No one ordered a baby shower cake. Oh, Mary, yes, as the mother, she prepared for the arrival of her baby. But a business trip for tax purposes was probably the last thing on her agenda. Riding a donkey most likely would have been her last wish in her ninth month of pregnancy. The point is: Jesus wasn’t born into ideal circumstances. Despite the stable which most of us would deem unsuitable accommodations, the Light of the World made His grand entrance in the form of a little baby. Human flesh held the Son of God and the glory of the night could not be contained. Angels sang their glory to God and hope, true Hope for the world was born!

Read the rest here.

Abundant #Joy

This is an excellent post by Sarah Walton of Set Apart: Hope on the Road Less Traveled.

Abundant Joy is Found
in the Presence of Christ,
not in the Absence of Pain

“Oh Lord, for years I have prayed for answers, healing, and understanding in this suffering you have allowed. Yet they have seemed not to come. Many have prayed to you on our behalf, as we have sought wisdom from the doctors you provided, and have longed for redemption of what’s been lost. By your grace, we have persevered through trial after trial, trusting  that you would uphold us and bring forth good from all our pain.

Yet, many answers we have hoped for haven’t come in the ways we desire. The world’s solutions to our pain have left us discouraged, confused, and fighting hopelessness, while the trials, burdens, questions, and uncertainties remain the same. 

I have longed for, cried, and pleaded for you to bring us out from under the pain and heaviness of these trials into a place of abundance. I have asked you to lift these crushing burdens, and carry us through the pounding waves and the raging fire that threatens  to consume our hope, testimony, and lives. 

However, in my desire for answers, I have missed something wonderful. You have answered our prayers – though different than I expected. You have been near, intimately working deep within our hearts as we have laid down our hopes and desires of this world. While you have chosen not to remove the heartache and overwhelming circumstances from our lives, you have done something greater. You have brought us into a place of abundance. For while I have been waiting for this place of abundance to come in the form of relief, you have instead brought it in the midst of the very trials I desired to be freed from. 

This place of abundance has been found in the presence of Christ, not in the absence of pain. 

Read the rest here.

The Gift of Illness

This excellent article about a difficult subject is from the True Woman Blog at Revive Our Hearts.

The Gift of Illness

 

I’m not in a wheelchair. I’m not on chemo. I’ve ended up in the hospital only two times, for brief outpatient visits. To see me, you’d assume I’m the picture of perfect health. But underneath this strong exterior lies deep weakness.

I’ve been given the gift of chronic illness. And while I would love to reject such a gift, it has been my invitation into a thousand moments of grace—to feel where I was once numb, see where I was once blind, hear where I was once deaf. It’s been my merciful undoing and my gracious remaking.

You see, in my own strength, pain-free and healthy, I am Pride and Self-sufficiency and The Greatest People Pleaser. But here, in the throes of weakness, I am forced into postures of humility and dependency upon God. This brokenness has surfaced every cranky, weary, impatient, mean, insecure, fearful, shortsighted aspect of my character. So I cry out to Him.

And I find Him.

Read the rest here.

When I’m struggling with depression . . .

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Beloved, are your energy and spirit dragging? It happens to all of us at times, making it difficult to think clearly or feel any interest in daily life. Here’s a devotional I wrote awhile back that was published in an anthology titled Anytime Prayers for Everyday PeopleI hope and pray it speaks to your heart.

This particular devotional was in the section titled “Prayers of Supplication.” 

When I’m struggling with depression . . .

Come quickly, LORD, and answer me, for my depression deepens.
Don’t turn away from me, or I will die.
Let me hear of your unfailing love to me in the morning,
for I am trusting you.
Show me where to walk, for I have come to you in prayer.
—Psalm 143:7-8 NLT
…..

My soul melts from heaviness;
strengthen me according to Your word.
—Psalm 119:28 NKJV
…..

God, Who comforts and encourages and refreshes and cheers
the depressed and the sinking,
comforted and encouraged and refreshed and cheered us.
—2 Corinthians 7:6 AMP
…..

When doubts filled my mind,
your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.
 
—Psalm 94:19 NLT

…..

. . . I will pray.

Father God,

There is so much in my life today that makes me want to give up. I have no energy to do even the basic things such as getting dressed or taking a shower. Nothing seems right. I despise my job. Food no longer appeals to me. My family and friends want to help me, but the thought of being with anyone is so exhausting.

I just want to be left alone. Why must I feel this way? How could I wake up one day with such despair in my heart? It’s not that I haven’t struggled to shake off this gloomy cloud. I truly have, but nothing has helped. And then I remember how You died on that cross for me and how alone and abandoned You must have felt.

Thank You for showering me with Your life-giving comfort and the reassurance of knowing that You truly understand my suffering. Lord, I turn to You now in hope and faith because even if everyone else in my life gives up on me, I know You’ll hold tight to me with a love that won’t let go.

Thank You for always being my Anchor.

Amen.

When you come to the bottom, you find God. —Nevill Talbot


[From Anytime Prayers for Everyday People. Copyright © 2006 Bordon-Winters LLC]

Purposes of Christ in Suffering

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Purposes of Christ in Suffering

By Dr. Joel R. Beeks

Christ intends to use suffering in the lives of His people to sanctify them and to prepare them for eternal glory.  Recognize how sanctified affliction is used to glorify God.  First of all, sanctified affliction humbles you (Deut. 8:2), teaches you what sin is (Zech. 12:10), and causes you to seek God (Hosea 5:15). Affliction vacuums away the fuel that feeds your pride.

Secondly, sanctified affliction serves to keep you in Christ’s communion, closely by His side, to conform you to Him, making you partakers of His suffering and image, righteousness and holiness (Heb. 12:10-11).

Thirdly, sanctified affliction serves to wean you from the world and to cause you to work by faith.  Perhaps affliction bites you so deeply because you are too little at home with the Word and ways of God and too much at home with the world.  In prosperity you often talk of living by other-worldly faith, but in adversity you live your talk.  Discover the truth of Robert Leighton’s words, ‘Affliction is the diamond dust that heaven polishes its jewels with.’

Recognize also that the end of all of His affliction, and ours, is eternal glory.  Think more of your coming crown and your eternal communion with God’s Triune saints and angles. ‘He that rides to be crowned, ‘John Trapp wrote, ‘will not think much of a rainy day.’

Consider Christ: His afflictions, power, presence, perseverance, prayers, goals, and end. Seek grace to live Christianly today through and in your afflictions and you shall soon discover with the apostle, ‘For me to live is Christ and to die is gain’ (Phil. 1:21).

Riding Lessons

Another great devotional by Joni Eareckson Tada.

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For physical training is of some value,
but godliness has value for all things,
holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.
—1 Timothy 4:8

Riding Lessons

By Joni Eareckson Tada

A friend and I were once joking about what kind of horses we’d like to be.  He mused, “I’d like to be a wild stallion, racing free across the plains, my mane and tail whipping in the wind.”  I smiled and countered, “Maybe, but a horse like that will never win any honors.  I would rather have the confines of a pasture and stall and be trained for dressage under bridle and bit.”

An unbridled, untrained horse lacks the restraints that guide and direct. The bit, martingale, tie-down, spur, and crop appear at first to the horse as irritants and hardships.  But such inconvenience and suffering school the horse to listen to the rider’s commands.  How hard it would be for an animal, without the aid of his master and his crop, to train himself up in the way he should go.  What’s more, the horse would be useless in the ring, without a hope of ever winning honors for his master.

It’s the same for humans.  Our natural bent is to enjoy what we think is freedom out there without constraints.  But as someone has said, freedom is not the right to do what we want to do, it is the power to do what we ought.  Hardship is our bit and bridle.  What’s more, our Master is an expert with the reins and the crop. Godliness involves training… without it, no honor can be given to our Master.

One of the key elements in good animal training is to break the will, but not the spirit.  In the same manner, we are never more “ourselves,” never more spiritually free than when our will is bent to God’s will.  Our spirit thrives on this kind of submission; what’s more, we are then well on our way to godliness.

God, thank You for seeing fit to saddle me with certain hardships.  You know what’s best.  You know how to train me for godliness.  I yield and obey…  I want to win You honors!


Copyright © 1998. More Precious Than Silver, by Joni Eareckson Tada. Published in Print by Zondervan, Grand Rapids. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible: New International Version.

Crushed but not Broken

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Crushed but not Broken

By Patricia Knight

Crowds of people pose unique and sometimes bizarre dynamics. A peaceful gathering meets to discuss, to listen, or to resolve issues. A crowd often degenerates into a mob by assembling to complain or to demonstrate.  Over-zealous behavior at rallies may lead to violence and injury. Crowds at sports arenas or long lines at retail stores may initiate pushing and shoving.

Crushing frequently occurs due to the compactness of a group, heightened by difficulty of individual movement. Some people may be physically propelled by the energy and intent of a multitude. Anyone attempting to exit the gathering could be trapped from within and seriously injured.

Jesus was the unlikely victim of crowd manipulation. “As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him” (Luke 8:42b). Some of those gathered around Jesus were thirsty for knowledge or in need of healing; others yearned to witness Jesus’ miracles.  In the midst of the mass where Jesus was pushed and jostled, He possessed the compassion to focus on one individual, patiently discerning that person’s need, and providing the specific attention required.

When Jesus detected a tug on His robe, He demanded, “Who touched me?”  His disciple, Peter, informed his Master of the futility of locating one individual within a multitude of people.  Peter argued,  “‘The people are crowding and pressing against you’” (Luke 8:45). Not satisfied with Peter’s complacent attitude, Jesus persisted. He identified the person’s touch as light but deliberate. Someone had a motive of healing in mind! Dr. Luke writes that the moment the woman with a twelve-year history of a hemorrhagic disease touched Jesus’ robe, her bleeding ceased immediately (Luke 8:44).

http://www.freebibleimages.org/illustrations/jairus-daughter/

Jesus was on His way to heal another person, but suddenly He stopped, diverting His attention to the person in the crowd who tugged at His garment, transferring healing power from his body to hers. Jesus wouldn’t allow the woman to slink away from the crowd without commending her faith and assuring her of the permanence of her healing.  She learned that memorable day, “The Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you” (1 Chronicles 28:9).

Jesus’ reaction to a gentle outreach on His clothing or on His heart always initiates a tender, loving response. What prevents us from calling on Him for each one of our needs, whether minor or major? “Then you will call and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help and he will say, ’Here am I’” (Isaiah 58:9).

When we are squeezed by unfamiliar circumstances, we may regress into anxiety or panic. We feel so crowded, we find it hard to breathe deeply or to move in the right direction. Every day we are bombarded with challenges to our faith. Calamities occur that threaten our ability to function: financial devastation, serious health issues, frayed relationships, loss of employment. We feel crushed by the enormity of the situation. We doubt recovery. We grieve losses. We are discouraged and distressed. Where do we find solace?

Frequently, Jesus escaped His followers, favoring a place of solitude and prayer. He sought spiritual enrichment:  re-connecting with His Father to fill His heart with heavenly goals and His mind with sovereign wisdom. By seeking His Father’s will at all times, Jesus renewed His strength and clarity of mission. We aren’t aware of the specific content of Jesus’ prayers, but we have evidence of the result:  refreshment, renewal, and rejoicing. For the Son of God, it was an opportunity to evaluate His priorities and to problem-solve; to worship and to glorify the Father. Jesus sought seclusion in prayer, the example He taught us to follow.

Our Savior understands our responses of anger, sadness, and confusion because He experienced similar emotions as an incarnated man on earth. Jesus was the subject of disbelief by His own siblings. He was humiliated, disrespected, criticized, and falsely attacked by opponents. Church leaders detested Him and sought His annihilation. What was His response?  “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:45). Jesus possessed high energy levels to accomplish a demanding ministry by spending quality time in secluded, secret prayer with His heavenly Father.

God’s children aren’t exempt from troubles. However, God assures us that He will comfort, protect, and provide for those who cry out to Him for deliverance. Our Lord is faithful, the unfailing deliverer of the righteous, who also holds the wicked accountable for their hostility aimed at God’s followers. Jesus was crushed by crowds, but they were unable to adversely affect His ability to respond to individuals among  throngs of followers. Jesus hasn’t changed. He still listens intently to our prayers and intercedes with victory for those who believe.

During those experiences when we feel crushed or broken, remember, “God is close to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles but the Lord delivers him from them all” (Psalm 34: 18-19).

Call on Jesus, lavishing Him with praise and gratitude. Call on Him to communicate and maintain a consistent bond of fellowship. Jesus wants to supply you with the antidote of spiritual joy of heart and peace of mind. To acknowledge that our heavenly Father is within easy access provides tremendous comfort. We are invited to confide in Him anytime, anywhere. “How gracious he {God} will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you” (Isaiah 30:19).

We may be crowded by an energetic group of people, as Jesus was, or we could be crushed by circumstances beyond our control. Either has the potential to threaten our strength or security, but Jesus offers the solution. Rejoice, for He has the desire and the ability to rescue us from all adversity. We are motivated to worship our Lord in the splendor of His majesty, glorifying His name at every opportunity. Father and Son deserve our personal best, for they have sacrificed their ultimate for each of us!

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise” (Psalm 48:1).